My pal Chris and I were talking comics the other day and we got into it about the Silver Age and Marvel vs. DC. He asked me what was DC Comics’ greatest creation of the 1960s? I quickly said “that’s easy” but just as quickly realized it wasn’t going to be? The first things that popped into my head were actually re-introductions of Golden Age characters and even though many had new alter egos they really couldn’t qualify as new character creations, and besides most of the big characters actually resurfaced in the late 1950s.
For our argument we decided to use post-November 1961 as the start date, Fantastic Four #1 had just come out and the Marvel Revolution was underway. The next eight years or so saw Marvel introduce dozens and dozens of what are today household name characters, villains and heroes.
What was going on over at DC? I get that they didn’t see what hit them probably until 1964 or so but where was the attempt at matching Marvel’s innovation in character creations?
Chris and I came up with Metal Men (April 1962), Doom Patrol (June 1963), Batgirl (January 1967) and maybe Zatanna (November 1964), I’m sure we missed a couple but certainly none of note. Meanwhile, we had fun rhyming off twenty-plus Marvel big name creations in twenty seconds. Even on the villain side, off the top of our heads, we could only come up with Poison Ivy, Parasite and Black Manta.
It honestly looks like there was no concerted corporate effort on the part of DC to answer back to this garden of innovation flowering just down the street in New York City.
I did check ComiChron and saw that DC was still dominating the yearly sales figures well into the late 1960s with Superman and his related titles always near the top, it wasn’t until 1969 that Amazing Spider-Man became the first Marvel title to crack the top ten. Maybe I’m looking at this through the lens of hindsight maybe I’m being a Monday morning quarterback? Maybe DC didn’t need to change.
Still, I can’t help but think that Julius Schwartz and his execs were aware of the trends, of their stagnant and falling sales numbers and of Marvel’s climbing sales numbers.
Why didn’t DC create more memorable characters in the 1960s? Publishers like Dell, Archie and Charlton were not built on superhero comics but DC was and there was a superhero revolution taking place that DC didn’t really add to, not in a big enough way considering they were already top dog in that genre.
In the late 60s DC had success with Ditko’s Hawk and The Dove, which along with Charlton’s Blue Beetle, was the DC answer to Spider-Man. The ever-bickering Hawk and Dove were also the template for the Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up in the 70s. Ditko also created the Creeper for DC, a clever crossover of Batman/Joker as well as a continuation of the moral stance introduced by Charlton’s The Question.
I love 1960s D.C. It’s the primary focus of my collection. There’s actually a lot more there than if we just use 1961 as the cutoff, b/c JLA and the important characters introduced in the early Silver Age books were within 3-4 years of that date. I also think we shouldn’t understate the importance of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl and Poison Ivy, as well as Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, etc. (yes they’re technically old characters, but they are really very different). Not to mention the introduction of Brainiac, Supergirl, Metallo, and the Bottled City of Kandor had all happened in 1958-1959, and the picture looks much better in my mind.
To really be fair you should begin before FF to include DC’s Challengers of the Unknown… and they Other characters as well like Adam Strange, Metamorpho, Creeper, etc. That being said Marvel did create more characters, but they did something far more important. Marvel used its characters across its books keeping those characters in the limelight even if the weren’t the star. Hulk may have failed as a book after 6 issues but he certainly never lost any coverage being utilized in other books so he could eventually return to a prominent position. Many a Marvel character that started as a foil for some other superhero eventually had either their own series or went on to star in their own book!
This comparison between Marvel and DC gets old for me. Marvel didn’t really have any superheroes in the 1950’s when they were called Atlas (except for the early 50’s when they tried a couple issues of Cap, Sub and HT). They had a clean slate to work on starting with FF #1. As you said, DC had the top selling superheroes because they were really the only ones happening during the 50’s.
Consider remodeling a house versus starting over from scratch. I have worked on new houses and remodeled houses. It is much easier to make changes when you start anew. Remodeling constrains you and you don’t make all the changes you wanted to do.
So if we get into this Marvel versus DC thing, lets talk today. Marvel is resting on its laurels of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Their comics today aren’t worth looking at let alone read. DC is doing a much better job of introducing new characters. Look at Punchline in the Batman world. Marvel movies are doing really well because they mostly take characters and storylines from the 60’s through 80’s heyday, not todays storylines.
Strong critiques fellas and Jeff you make a very good argument.
Where was DC in the 1960s?
1961 – The Atom appears. This character had nothing to do with the Golden Age character, and while we can note that Doll Man preceded the Atom, there were also other characters to follow.
Bat-Girl appears. Haunted Tank first appearance.
1962 is owned by Marvel, however the Metal Men do appear.
1963 – Doom Patrol first appearance. Word is there may have been another superhero team that mimicked this one. Reverse Flash, Mera and Eclipso appear.
1964 – The retconned first appearance of the Teen Titans. Zatanna also appears.
1965 – Solomon Grundy and the Riddler return. Teen Titans actual first appearance. Wonder Girl, Enemy Ace, Animal Man and Beast Boy (the star of Teen Titans Go!) arrive.
1966 – Poison Ivy 1, Catwoman reappears.
1967 – Contrary to popular belief, DC does better than Marvel this year. Better to ask; where was Marvel in 1967. Batgirl 1st appearance, Deadman, Black Manta, Scarecrow reappears. Marvel did have Kingpin and Warlock (sort of).
1968 – Hawk and Dove, Creeper, Dolphin (had to put this in), new Wonder Woman, ok, this was not good.
1969 – Black Canary and Phantom Stranger reappear.
By the same token you could say that Marvel reintroduced Golden Age characters such as Captain America, Vision, Black Widow, Doctor Strange (Thrilling Comics), Daredevil (Silver Streak), Dynamo (Science Comics), Electro (Science Comics), Wasp (Champ Comics), Dr. Doom (Big 3), Thing (Thing!, Dynamic Comics) & Grimm (Bomber Comics), Ghost Rider, Loki (Venus), Thor (mythology and Weird Comics 1 and Adventure 75), Juggernaut (Terrific Comics), Wonder Man (Wonder Comics and Startling Comics), Phantom Eagle (Fawcett’s Wow Comics), Captain Savage (Mystery Men Comics), Iron Man (Better Comics), Banshee (Fantastic Comics), Yellowjacket (Yellowjacket Comics).
Since we are only talking Golden Age to Marvel 60s I will not bring up a bunch of other characters.
Good topic and a real can of….
Alex, you give us lots to consume, great comment.
Marvel 1967 did launch some other enduring characters besides Kingpin and Warlock: a retconned Black Knight, Captain Marvel, MODOK, Blastaar, Ronan the Accuser, Psycho-man, the Living Tribunal, Shocker to name a few…. OH, and who could possibly forget Forbush Man?
And then Jack Kirby left Marvel in 1969 and created the New Gods, Darksied and inspired THANOS for DC
In fairness, DC was running an Universe, as Marvel was creating an Universe….DC refreshed their Universe between 1970 and the Crisis events…..Much like Marvel did With Todd McFarlane Liefield et al in the late 1980s
I personally find Liefeld as refreshing as an old banana peel on a hot sidewalk… and feel MacFarland didn’t excel until he left Marvel and created Spawn. But I’m not knocking you for liking them!
Thanks, I forgot Marvel bringing back Captain Marvel and Black Knight. I also forgot Sub-Mariner and Human Torch. Great comments from everyone.
Posted this in the wrong topic, oopsy.
I’ve been drawn to some of the underdog 1960’s characters/comics and have a complete 2 issue runs of BEE-MAN, JIGSAW, PIRANA, the single issue hit of NEUTRO, looking for SPYMAN (3 run). Greatest comics in the world!? Probably not, but they’re much fun and not too expensive. I’m also liking ACG (Herbie) and Charlton comics (Magicman, Nemesis) and Tower’s THUNDER AGENTS. I’ll have to look again at their splashes.
Oopsy too – Magicman and Nemesis are ACG. I’ve got a couple of Charlton’s but haven’t read them yet so have forgotten what, need to sort my boxes.
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